Parliament has had publicity again over allegations of misbehaviour by MPs and as a member of the Standards Committee, I do get involved in deciding how to tackle some of these cases. Less has been said about the way in which the House of Commons has been doing its job of carefully scrutinising legislation and Government.
Recently a large lobby of disabled constituents came to Westminster, who wished to have their say over the new Welfare Reform Bill. It was good that so many came to put their views at a point in the parliamentary debates when their input can carry weight and make a difference to the legislation. I was pleased to meet three groups from North East Hertfordshire – with very different disabilities and concerns, but united in a desire to be heard.
I think there is good evidence that the Government is prepared to listen to serious points made. On the Housing Benefit changes, the Government has removed the controversial proposal to reduce Housing Benefit after one year, just because a person has not found a job. They are also reviewing how best to meet the mobility needs of those in residential homes and have looked carefully at how to improve the assessment of whether or not a person is capable of some work and have begun to roll out the improvements.
For too long the culture has been to leave people with disabilities on benefits and not help them to work. For years campaigners have pressed the case for a right to work and help into work. It is important that the chance now available through the Work Programme is not missed. Of course, some people are unable to work and must continue to receive benefits, but the better future comes from work, where possible.
The new Personal Independence Payment is also subject to debate. This will replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a streamlined system with more regular checks to ensure people are receiving the help they need. There are currently many DLA recipients whose needs have not been assessed since it was introduced in 1992 and another large group have not had their position checked for 10 years. This means some people will not have received help they need and some may be receiving more DLA than needed. Compassion and efficiency need to go hand in hand, but a Bill can always be improved by debate and listening.